"The law of supply and demand would seem to indicate that there would eventually be a surplus of engineering grads, and the starting salaries would drop due to an influx of students migrating to engineering. But that never seems to happen."
The law of supply and demand is sensitive to the "cost of the degree". The reality is that many engineering schools now take five years to complete. This makes an engineering degree 25% more costly than other fields.
Better engineering schools have higher tuition costs, although a mix of commumity college and engineering school can mitigate under some circumstances. But the engineering curricula makes transfer from community college more difficult since foundational engineering and science courses are introduced sophomore year.
The biggest impediment to operation of the law of supply and demand in engineers is that all engineering degrees are hard work! Some fields are "only" difficult, but most are just plain challenging. Folks who "hated trig" or "hated physics" in High School are probably ill suited to taking on an engineering degree in College.
I agree that it's a bad idea to lump all degrees together when analyzing the value of college, naperlou. Given the lists that come out every year with engineering grads earning the highest average salaries year after year, though, I don't understand why there's always a shortage of engineering graduates. The law of supply and demand would seem to indicate that there would eventually be a surplus of engineering grads, and the starting salaries would drop due to an influx of students migrating to engineering. But that never seems to happen. Year after year, engineering grads have the highest annual starting salaries.
The problem with engineering has always been that while it offers good salaries straight out of school, the money flattens out pretty fast. I suspect some of these people found ways to keep their salaries moving up the curve, especially the Congressmen who don't have to pay taxes. And, yes, bobjengr, I agree that engineering offers great critical thinking skills.
While US Congressman Joe Barton is an engineer, I don't think I would have used him as an example in this article. He's made a habit of saying (and doing) some amazingly ridiculous things over the years.
Very informative post. I have two friends who graduated from engineering schools then went right into law school. One is now a patent attorney and the other owns a retail establishment ( Starbucks ). Somewhat sad but reality, I know several graduate engineers who started working as engineers but realized there was no real money in the profession and looked elsewhere for their livelyhood. I think we can all agree that engineering required critical thinking and that's what other professions can use.
You're right, naperlou. The Wall Street Journal had an article called, "The Diploma's Vanishing Value," three days ago (link below). Engineering degrees, however, never seem to have a vanishing value, however. I would add that degrees in English and liberal arts have significant value, but that value doesn't translate well to the job market, especially when coming directly out of school.
Chuck, this is a very instructive list. It is good to see so many talented people who were educated as engineers. This is also germaine to the higher education debate going on in this country. We are often afraid of the rising power of countries like China and India, at least partly becuase they are graduating so many engineers. At the same time there are articles and columns in American papers talking about the diminishing returns of a college degree. The problem with those analyses is that they lump all degrees together. We don't need more social workers and english majors, do we? We need more engineers, as evidenced by the debate on H1B visas. Even if some of those engineering grads don't spend most of their career as practicing engnieers, they typically bring analytical skills to areas of endeavour that help them to be successful. We need more of that.
Using wireless chips and accessories, engineers can now extract data from the unlikeliest of places -- pumps, motors, bridges, conveyors, refineries, cooling towers, parking garages, down-hole drills and just about anything else that can benefit from monitoring.
With strong marketplace demand for qualified engineers across the board that currently outstrips the available supply, there may never be a better time for engineers and project managers to advance their careers and salaries. Whether those moves are successful in the short-term and long-term is likely to depend on how the transition from one job to the next is handled.
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